During the hour drive from the airport to this western African nation’s capital, signs of the civil war that ended in 2003 are everywhere.
Blue-helmeted United Nations soldiers patrol the streets, the half-built Ministry of Health building is a concrete skeleton smeared with black, and a worn billboard asks Liberians to “Stop mob violence.” Above the words is a painting of a raging crowd overcoming a line of police.
To help heal the deep wounds of this country, which was founded by freed American slaves, former President Bill Clinton came here last weekend to promote economic development and antimalarial efforts.
Mr. Clinton says he negotiated with several large drug manufacturers to reduce by 35 percent the price of artemisinin, a malaria treatment. The disease is responsible for almost 60 percent of Liberian deaths.
“That means for the same amount of money you will serve far more people,” he told Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, members of the country’s parliament, and other dignitaries gathered at an auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry serves as President Johnson-Sirleaf’s headquarters.
Mr. Clinton, whose foundation is also promoting investment in the nascent Liberian tourism industry, said that health gains would also support the nation’s economy.
“A big part of Liberia’s comeback economically will involve wiping away all these plagues. Every year hundreds of thousands Liberians miss weeks of work and school and many people die, especially children, because of malaria,” he said.
A Rocky Start
The six-hour visit to Liberia was the penultimate stop for Mr. Clinton in a whirlwind goodwill tour of Africa. On Sunday morning he awoke in Rwanda, flew to Liberia, and then to Senegal to announce a new collaboration with the World Health Organization and others to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in children.
Today he is in Mexico City to give the keynote speech at the International AIDS Conference, where he will urge philanthropies and others to help support building basic public health programs in impoverished nations as a means to curb the pandemic.
On his tour, which began in Ethiopia after several plane malfunctions, the former president brought a group of friends and family, including his daughter Chelsea and half-brother Roger.
In Ethiopia, Mr. Clinton promoted solar-energy projects.
J.B. Pritzker, a philanthropist and billionaire businessman, said he joined the trip to learn more about giving abroad.
After touring an Ethiopian health clinic in Debre Zeyit, a rural area outside Addis Ababa, he said he sees how much farther a donated dollar can go in Africa than in developed countries. For example, with $1-million, he said, a donor could build and operate for a year or so three of the Ethiopian medical facilities.
But he also said that given the lack of good roads, poor nutrition among the population, and other factors, a philanthropist working to improve health or education in Africa must juggle a lot more variables than one in America.
“You can have more bang for your buck here,” he said while walking in Rwanda after seeing a Clinton Foundation agriculture program. “But it’s so much more complex.”
‘Made His Name’
The Clinton trip is widely seen as a way to refocus attention on Mr. Clinton’s philanthropy after his wife’s failed bid for the White House. While he travels to Africa every year with supporters and members of the news media, this time he made a larger effort to record his charitable works, bringing a three-person documentary film crew, a photographer, a videographer, and a blog writer.
In all, the trip is costing the Clinton Foundation about $1-million, said Bruce Lindsay. (About half that amount is emergency funds used to lease airplanes after one donated by a technology company was grounded due to mechanical glitches.)
While to some it may seem an expensive public-relations stunt, most Rwandans think Mr. Clinton is earnest in his desire to help their homeland, said Bonny Muskombozi, a journalist for The New Times, an English-language newspaper in Kigali.
When asked if Mr. Clinton does the charity work in part to improve his image, Mr. Muskombozi said, “I don’t think so. He has been the president of the USA; he has made his name.”
Mr. Muskombozi waited for Mr. Clinton to arrive by military helicopter to kick off the construction of a $1-million, 180-bed hospital, which the Clinton Foundation is building with Partners in Health.
“The fact he is involved in health issues — fighting AIDS, building hospitals — it is viewed with a lot of potency here,” he said.
Chants and Rallies
Indeed, across the continent Mr. Clinton has been greeted like a rock star, with enthusiastic crowds, dance performances, and occasional chants of his name almost like a political rally.
But not everyone is happy with Mr. Clinton’s humanitarian role.
After Mr. Clinton finished his speech in Monrovia, a Liberian legislator stood up and questioned the former president’s approach on malaria, which emphasizes treatment.
“Mr. President, we are not in agreement,” said Joyce M. Freeman Sumo, a senator from Montserrado, a coastal area. “We come from a different place of thought. We should try and stop the things that bring malaria,” such as trash heaps and abandoned tires, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Mr. Clinton said he recognizes the need for such steps, but the Clinton Foundation’s expertise lies in medicine, and there are funds from the American government that could be used for garbage clean-up and such.
Afterwards, Ms. Sumo, dressed in a long African dress of purple and black, said she was satisfied with his response, but hoped he would still consider her request. “While you are working on malaria control,” she said, “you can still prevent the disease from happening.”